Projects’ effect on water supply questioned

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Environmentalists are warning that three developments in southeast Manitoba threaten the water supply, even though the province has promised to protect it.

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Environmentalists are warning that three developments in southeast Manitoba threaten the water supply, even though the province has promised to protect it.

“The magnitude of the threats to water in that area is so significant that we felt it was really important to try and bring more public attention to this and more action from authorities who can do something to halt things before the damage really happens,” said Vicki Burns, who is with Manitoba Eco-Network and Hog Watch Manitoba.

A proposed sand mine and processing plant, an intensive livestock and residential development, and a plan to discharge concentrated waste from Beausejour’s new water treatment plant into the Brokenhead River may harm the aquifer, the river and ultimately Lake Winnipeg, Burns said Tuesday at a news conference at the legislature.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Vicky Burns (with the Manitoba Eco-Network and Hog Watch Manitoba) says three developments in southeast Manitoba will threaten the water supply, despite promises from the province to protect it.

She was joined by concerned area residents who are demanding a halt to the projects until their environmental effects are properly studied and understood.

Manitoba’s water management strategy, which was announced last month to protect resources while growing the economy, must ensure meaningful environmental assessments are conducted before new developments are approved. The groups say that is not happening now.

“Water is needed for life,” said Janine Gibson, who lives near the proposed Sio Silica (formerly CanWhite Sands) sand mine and silica sand processing plant, 35 kilometres east of Winnipeg in the R.M. of Springfield. It would include a rail connection, the installation, operation and decommissioning of sand extraction wells, as well as a slurry line for transport. It is expected to produce at least 1.3 million tonnes of silica sand per year.

The province has approved the processing plant, but has not yet licensed the sand extraction process, Gibson noted. Area residents worry their water source may be permanently damaged.

The provincial environment department said Tuesday it had asked the Clean Environment Commission to hold a public hearing to inform Manitobans and protect public health and the environment. The public hearing will take place in early 2023. The commission will then make recommendations to the minister. A licensing decision will not be made until the commission’s work is complete, the department said.

“Do the tests,” Gibson said. “Show that it’s something that can happen without polluting our aquifer.”

In Beausejour, a new water treatment plant, which will use reverse osmosis, is expected to discharge 20,000 litres per hour of concentrated waste into the Brokenhead River just east of town.

Resident Janice Brolly is worried.

“There was very little data in regards to the waste concentrate’s effect on the river’s ecosystem,” Brolly said Tuesday.

“Just 12 kilometres further downstream is the Brokenhead River ecological preserve, one of the most protected sites in Manitoba,” said the member of Brokenhead Environmentalists. “This project jeopardizes all of that.”

The Beausejour plant’s environmental licence includes conditions to protect public health and the environment, and addresses the potential effects on fish, aquatic habitat, water quality, wildlife, vegetation, and other factors, the government statement said.

“The plant’s effluent will not affect water quality in the Brokenhead River, even in low-flow conditions,” it said. “Out of an abundance of caution, the town must monitor water quality and groundwater levels to safeguard Manitobans and prevent pollution.”

North of Beausejour, Diane Robertson said work has begun on an intensive livestock and residential development in an area where the location of aquifers — and the amount of water usage and availability — is unknown.

Westfarm Colony is expected to use up to 86,375 litres of water per day for the operation, which will eventually include up to 25 feeder cattle, 950 farrow-to-finish sows, 50,000 broiler chickens, 11,000 layer chickens, 1,500 broiler turkeys, 800 ducks and three mature cows, Robertson said.

“We are worried for our wells and the surrounding area,” Robertson said. “We need this operation to be halted until… the water in our area can be proved to be able to withstand such demands.”

The province said the Westfarm Colony development is in the early stages and the proposal for an environmental licence has not been submitted. “If submitted, it will go through a robust environmental review and assessment.”

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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